By Amulya Ganguli


Union home minister Amit Shah’s assurance that Article 371, which is meant to safeguard the distinctive identities of the north-eastern states, will not be touched should ease jittery nerves in the region.


Nagaland’s governor, R.N. Ravi, had also told the “dear brothers, sisters and children” of the state soon after the scrapping of Article 370 relating to Kashmir that “you don’t have to worry at all” about the centre’s “solemn commitment” vis-à-vis Article 371. He gave the assurance since “some people have expressed apprehensions over the implications of the development in Jammu and Kashmir on Nagaland”.


However, concern was expressed by the president of Naga Hoho, the apex tribal body of the Nagas, Chuba Ozukum, that “if government of India can scrap Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, it can remove 371A in Nagaland”.


There have also been others such as Mizoram’s former chief minister Lal Thanhawla, who said that the abrogation of Article 370 was a “red alert” for the north-east. In Meghalaya, the federation of Khasi states has welcomed a resolution seeking extra protection under Article 371-J.


Whatever the fears, it is obvious that the BJP government at the centre will not initiative any steps against Article 371 at a time when the party is seeking to establish itself as a political force in the region. While doing so, it has already taken a step backwards to allow some of the local dietary preferences, such as consuming beef, to prevail (as also in Goa), showing that the BJP is careful about not letting its ideology get in the way of politics.


Besides, Article 371 is safe at the moment because the BJP is currently engaged in pushing through the citizens’ (amendment) bill with its focus on putting Muslims in a different category from the followers of other religions. Considering that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is also pursuing a similar objective of ferreting out Muslims from others, thereby unsettling the social scene, this is not the time for any other controversial move.


However, the North-East Forum for Indigenous People has criticized the home minister’s statement on the citizenship bill as “empty”, “misleading” and guilty of “double standards” .


The All Assam Students’ Union, which led the anti-foreigner movement between 1979 and 1985, has described the bill as “unconstitutional and anti-north-east” because “citizenship cannot be on the basis of religion”.


Moreover, there is another reason for the BJP to be circumspect. The party would probably like to wait to see how its peremptory step in Kashmir pans out. If it is able to control the situation even after the release of the detailed politicians, it will be ready for other adventures. But if the scene goes from bad to worse in Kashmir, the party will continue to be extra careful about any precipitous initiative.


In any event, there is a vital difference between Articles 370 and 371. The former has been on the BJP’s and the Sangh Parivar’s hit list ever since the Jan Sangh’s founder, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, died in detention in Kashmir in 1953 without attaining his objective of undoing the state’s autonomous status where it had a separate constitution, a separate flag and a separate prime minister.


The abrogation of Article 370, therefore, has long been one of the BJP’s and the parivar’s primary objectives like the construction of the Ram temple. Both these steps have a communal/political objective in the sense of asserting the country’s Hindu identity which denies, so far as Kashmir is concerned, a Muslim-majority state’s privileged status.


The BJP has no such fetishes about the north-east, which was terra incognita to it for the decades when it was mainly a party of the urban middle class orthodox Hindu traders of north India. It is only in the last few years of its political advancement based on its “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan” agenda that it has turned to the east and the north-east to expand its footprint.


But being unaccustomed to the assimilative culture and relaxed lifestyle of the region, it is treading carefully. There is little doubt that this cautious approach will continue till the party believes that it is in a secure enough position to act in accordance with its majoritarian outlook.


The BJP’s problem is that its units in those parts of the country where it believes it is firmly established are not always willing to be patient. For instance, the BJP’s leader in Delhi wants the process of implementing the NRC to be started right away in the national capital region. It is the same in West Bengal.


Clearly, the BJP regards the NRC as its electoral trump card which can divert attention from the economic slump. But the effect on the north-east of such aggressive policies may not be favourable to the BJP.


What the party may be slowly realizing is that the country is too diverse for a “one size fits all” doctrine. But pursuing different and even contradictory programmes in various regions – allowing beef in some provinces but not in others – can confuse its followers and make the party appear far too opportunistic. (IPA Service)



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